VoltSafe originally made waves when co-founders Trevor Burgess and Arash Janfada appeared on CBC’s popular TV show, Dragons’ Den. They presented the world’s first magnetic, high voltage, prong-less plug. But it wasn’t the aesthetic difference between VoltSafe’s hardware and the traditional three-pronged plug that caught the interest of the Dragons. It was the fact that the technology solves key problems that have always been associated with pronged plugs over the last 140 years.
VoltSafe technology creates an electricity gate, eliminating the risk of electrocution. Ditching prongs and adding magnets, makes connecting easy and also offers smart control and energy savings. If you’ve watched the Dragons’ Den series (Season 12 ep.14), you know that having an amazing product isn’t enough to attract an offer from these savvy, experienced investors. Let’s hear from VoltSafe’s CEO Trevor Burgess about what it took to hook not just one Dragon, but three.
Can you share why you decided to pitch VoltSafe and its technology on CBC’s Dragons’ Den?
I believe there is an entrepreneur in each and every Canadian and this is why Dragons’ Den resonates so well with its viewers. Who hasn’t had at least one great idea in their lives and thought, “Oh wow, maybe I could create my own business with this idea”.
Although pitching the Dragons seems like a great validator of one’s idea, the real litmus test is the response from TV viewers after your segment airs. In general, consumers are the real judges for startups on Dragons’ Den.
The Dragons’ Den platform was a tool for us to create awareness and see the response from viewers. As much as we were happy to receive positive feedback, we wanted to hear from naysayers and let them try and poke holes in anything and everything to do with our technology and business model. That is how you find out whether you have something or not.
When we auditioned, we knew we were at a stage where VoltSafe was too early for what the Dragons prefer, as they traditionally want to see product-market-fit and tangible, scalable traction in the form of sales. We had none of those achievements when we went to audition. In fact, we didn’t even have safety certification completed, and as such we knew we would likely face a barrage of “Dragon fire”.
Luckily for us, the Dragons saw the potential in our patented technology and provided three above-ask offers of $1M for 8% equity at a $12.5M valuation. At the time, our deal was the second-highest offer made in Dragons’ Den history!
How did you prepare for the episode & how long did it take?
When Dragons’ Den held open auditions in Vancouver, we didn’t have much of anything to show them when we went to pitch. So, we ad-libbed the pitch about our new technology and its potential impact, along with the promise we could deliver functional prototypes for multiple applications (Home, Marine and Winter connectors). Luckily, they believed we would come through in time for our trip to Toronto to pitch on air just six weeks away.
For the next six weeks, we lived at work building functional prototypes from scratch for the Home and Marine products. Something we still fondly look back on even today. Our team of four had many sleepless nights. In fact, the morning co-founder Arash and I flew out, our two engineers had stayed awake all night continuing to work on our new wall display. An hour before our flight, the new prototypes miraculously started working.
Since we were already so obsessed and immersed in our tech and had little time to practice a pitch, we just let that passion shine through naturally in our pitch. Memorized lines can easily derail a pitch if you forget them, especially under pressure. Passion, however, is very hard to derail. But of course, even passion needs focal points and it was simply those key points that we memorized when we went on stage to pitch live.
The filming itself was done in one 45min take, of which they cut for final editing into 8 minutes long for TV. The cameras were well placed and you couldn’t really notice them, but first walking in front of them was exactly as anyone could imagine… daunting!
Who was more nervous during the pitch, you or Arash?
Too close to tell. We both knew how big this would be for us, good or bad. Arash and I are also the types to just say to ourselves, “Screw it! Let’s just go out there and be us”. People deal with stress in different ways and that’s how we dealt with ours. Just try and let yourself shine through.
Certainly, the build-up plays with your mind. However, we didn’t try to stick to a memorized pitch. Instead, we memorized headlines which gave us the ability to let the high-level aspects of what we wanted to say come through better.
Although I’ve never told anyone this, I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life, even to the point of panic attacks. Sometimes it’s literally impossible to fight the idea of “failing at X” and drive it out of your mind. I learned to just go with it and allow myself to imagine completely failing; the worst possible outcome.
Then I’d ask myself, “will the most important things in my life still be there afterwards? My family, my friends, my health?” Realizing this is truly grounding and after letting yourself quit in your mind. Just for a moment in your head, you realize you’ve actually got nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’ve coined this “micro-quitting” and it’s really helped me gain perspective over irrational anxiety by letting me quit, but just for a moment.
At what point did you know you were ready to pitch to the Dragons?
Although practice is important, I believe knowing your craft is a critical prerequisite. We never thought we were ready for a perfectly orchestrated pitch. We just knew our vision, tech and industry. And we were passionate about the impact that VoltSafe technology will have on the world, long term.
What was the experience like when you were in the Den with the Dragons?
Certainly, the most unnerving part of the process feels as if you are watching Dragons’ Den on TV. But then you realize you have to start speaking. Standing there for many minutes waiting to hear “rolling and… action” gives you quite the adrenaline dump. At the end of the day, it is just another day where you need to believe in yourself and your team and vice versa. Especially if you want the people you are pitching to believe in you.
At what point did you know that your pitch was a success?
Arash and I both consider ourselves pessimistic optimists. But when Arlene and Michele really understood what the technology’s value proposition was, there was a palpable shift in sentiment. We could tell that we were likely going to get at least some sort of offer.
You had multiple offers by the end of the show. How did you know which offer to accept?
Although we had done our homework on each of the Dragons’ strengths, network and reach prior to going on the show, you still never truly know what anyone can truly offer until it actually happens. Alignment is everything and that was the driving force behind our ultimate decision.
Arash and I both really liked Jim and he was our first choice, but we were unsure how much real leverage he could create for VoltSafe as we headed towards Seed and Series A raises. Michele appeared to be more connected to Silicon Valley VCs which, as a hardware company, we knew we needed to start building connections with. This is why we ultimately chose Michele’s offer.
Can you tell us about what transpired after the show aired, are any of the Dragons still investors?
Prior to going on Dragons’ Den, we were well aware that this is a TV show and the deals made on the show weren’t binding. As such, we anticipated it wouldn’t go much farther than that. However, there was a due diligence period that we followed in the months following the show, providing all the information needed for Michele and her team to assess whether they would like to invest or not.
Approximately four months after our live pitch, we had our first call with Michele and her business partner. The first thing her partner mentioned was that they only invest in one or two of the TV deals they do each year, not a surprise. Next, her partner asked, “Trevor, how did you end up coming to a $12.5M valuation, would you take a lower number?” I responded, “I didn’t come up with the $12.5M valuation, three Dragons’ did and I chose the Dragon on the other end of this call.” But even that wasn’t a deal-breaker for us.
Later on in the discussion, it became much clearer that alignment was missing because they were looking to a one-year horizon before they would exit their investment and our fiduciary duty is to our existing stakeholders and we had yet to unlock the value hidden in our new patents. After the call we chose to raise with family, friends and angel investors. To date, we have raised over $5M. Overall, it really was a great experience and we truly feel fortunate to have been on Dragons’ Den!
How has being on the show impacted VoltSafe?
Awareness achieved! The response was absolutely incredible with thousands of direct emails from all over North America asking for VoltSafe related solutions across so many different plug use cases. What was challenging, was that at that point in time, we were still navigating how our new, safer technology could fit into existing pronged plug electrical standards. Nothing existed yet.
We needed to find a way to achieve safety certification for our technology in order to bring it to market, but we had been hitting a wall. Existing standards didn’t allow contact metal to be exposed to electrical outlets because voltages over 60V are dangerous and can cause potentially fatal shocks. Our tech, however, uses an “electricity gate” so we can expose outlet contacts. There is no risk for our outlets to accidentally turn on.
Our tech reaches a level of safety near that of aerospace safety requirements, which is exponentially higher than pronged plugs today. At the time our episode aired in January 2018, we were unable to take full advantage of all the inquiries we had received from our Dragons’ Den airing. But by 2020, we successfully punched a hole through antiquated plug standards and successfully certified our technology!
What advice would you share with those who are considering making a pitch on Dragons’ Den?
Absolutely go for it! Know your tech, know your industry, know your numbers. Let your passion shine through. But anchor that passion in your tech, industry and numbers.
Sage advice indeed. It’s that passion and due diligence which have brought VoltSafe from its Dragons’ Den beginnings to its current state, complete with industry experts on the board of advisors and multiple licensing discussions in the works. For a limited time, you can invest in VoltSafe via its Frontfundr campaign HERE.
Don’t miss it!
On Wednesday, July 20th at 5:30 PM EST, watch the webinar featuring Dragons’ Den alumni, VoltSafe’s CEO, Trevor Burgess, and Hardbacon’s CEO, Julien Brault. They’ll chat about their respective Dragons’ Den appearances, what went well, what didn’t and how business is booming today. Tickets for this virtual event are FREE and available now at Eventbrite.
Inside Dragon’s Den:
Fact & Fiction About Raising Money in Canada
Wednesday, July 20th, 2022 at 5:30 PM EST
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